WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - Gov. Henry McMaster updated the state's preparations for Hurricane Irma Sunday afternoon and said more than 200 people have already come to state shelters ahead of the storm.
"As you can tell, this is a serious storm," he said. "Fortunately, it is not hitting us like we thought it might but it is still hitting us and it will hit hard."
McMaster said wind speeds were already gusting to approximately 54 miles per hour in the southern-most counties. From approximately 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday, parts of the Lowcountry could experience 60 mph wind gusts.
A total of 11 shelters have opened across the state and as of noon on Sunday, 264 evacuees were making use of them. The shelters have a total capacity of more than 7,100, he said.
McMaster said 579 National Guardsmen, 100 South Carolina Highway Patrol Troopers, and 121 agents from the State Law Enforcement Division, SC Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources agents are working together to assist with evacuation and security for evacuated areas.
On Friday night, he announced a mandatory evacuation order to go into effect for the barrier islands of Colleton, Beaufort and Jasper Counties at 10 a.m. Saturday, but said he did not intend to reverse lanes of I-26 because the track of Irma continued to shift to the west toward Georgia.
McMaster had a dire warning for thieves and looters who might try to take advantage of the situation on evacuated barrier islands.
"Looters, thieves, mischief makers of any kind will be arrested on sight," he said. "And they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
He said the state has experienced some fuel shortages at individual stations, but said the state is not running out of fuel.
President Donald Trump called the governor from Camp David earlier Sunday. McMaster said he thanked the president for approving the state's request for federal disaster assistance in just a few hours.
"He said he's with us, he assured me he's willing to do anything needed to help the people of South Carolina," McMaster said.
Irma made landfall Sunday morning at 9:10 a.m. in the Florida Keys and is expected to make landfall on the Florida Peninsula somewhere between Fort Myers and Tampa Sunday night.
Impacts from Irma are expected from late Sunday through Monday.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.